What does Wild Life's failed crowdfunding campaign mean for big-budget adult games?
Finding better stories to tell in Naughty List News #57
Wild Life is an adult open-world single-player RPG for PC being developed by Berlin-based studio Candy Valley Network GmbH. They recently ran a Kickstarter campaign that failed to reach its goal where they asked for a very ambitious €250,000 ($281,748 USD) but only managed to raise €91,304 ($102,938 USD) from 1,387 backers.
For the sake of transparency: I pledged €35 to the campaign.
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This week I want to dive into what went wrong and what this could mean for crowdfunded adult games in general.
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Hype train failed to leave the station
If the goal was to generate coverage for the game through a Kickstarter, that failed miserably. I could only find one article covering the campaign, and it prominently displays that it has 40 views at the time of writing.
I believe this is due to the team’s failure to communicate their story. What the Kickstarter campaign promises to do is to essentially finish the game. It doesn’t talk about the challenges the team faced to bring their game to market, or why the game is so important to them. These stories may be out there somewhere, but they’re not on the Kickstarter page.
According to Graphtreon, Wild Life is ranked #37 on Patreon. That's not in the category of adult content or even gaming in general, but #37 on the entire site. There's going to be a hard cap on the number of people interested in adult games so I find it hard to see how they can grow much bigger than that. Adult video games are a niche interest and Wild Life is already one of the biggest fish in the pond.
A hugely successful game in development on Patreon turning to Kickstarter is not exactly news. When I covered the Kickstarter campaign for this very newsletter, I wrote about the game’s integration with Lovense sex toys, which I thought was going to be a much more interesting story for my readers.
I want to stress something really important, and I urge you to check for yourself. The game’s integration with Lovense sex toys is not mentioned on the Kickstarter. The word “Lovense” does not appear on the page at all.
How can you expect the gaming press to cover your game when you’re not providing them with an interesting story to tell?
Why do you need the money?
Wild Life already pulls in €104.819 ($118,158 USD) every month from 13k patrons on their Patreon. This means that they pull in more money per month (before Patreon's cut and taxes) than they managed to raise with their entire Kickstarter campaign.
But they fail to communicate this financial reality to prospective backers. They mention in the "Risks and challenges" section that they've "held the position amongst [sic] the Top 10 creators in the Adult Games category of Patreon for over 3 years." But they don't talk about their plans for the funds that the Kickstarter would bring in.
There is an enormous disconnect between how expensive people think games are to make versus how expensive they actually are to make. My experience working on AAA video games informs me that the amount of money Wild Life pulls in from Patreon is going to be barely enough for their 16 team members and occasional contractors. But as an industry, we don’t do a good job to explain these costs to the general public, which was painfully demonstrated in a recent viral tweet:
I do believe that Wild Life was asking for a reasonable amount of funding for their project. That money probably could have paid for a few more months of development with a team their size. But to the general public, a quarter of a million euros looks like an astronomical amount of money. Breaking down the expenses into categories would have helped to alleviate concerns about this.
Why should people back your campaign if you're already pulling in so much money through Patreon? What does this additional cash injection allow you to do for your project? The simple truth is that if you don't tell this story yourself then people will spin their own.
Subverse managed to thread the needle
Why I’m not too concerned about the future of crowdfunded AAA adult video games as a whole is because Subverse already proved there’s a market for it. That campaign managed to raise €1,966,993 ($2,226,636 USD) from 58,730 backers and was covered by PCGamer, PCGamesN, The Daily Dot, and many other local outlets.
The campaign for Subverse was successful in part because they had a clear story to tell. We’re making Mass Effect with waifus and it’s going to be sexier and more daring than any other game! Whether that’s true or not is actually immaterial: It’s a story that people are interested in finding out more about.
And while Subverse did not do a breakdown of their expenses either, they did have a clear roadmap of stretch goals. Their lowest tier guaranteed that at least the first chapter of the game would come out and they subsequently blasted through every other stretch goal.
The Dutch have a saying: The best sailors stand on shore. It’s easy to speculate about what went wrong with a campaign when you’re not the one making the decisions. I’m sure there are lots of other reasons why the campaign failed to win hearts and open wallets.
I don’t think there was anything fundamentally wrong with the crowdfunding campaign for Wild Life. I think it was simply lackluster. Other campaigns have already proven there is definitely a market for big-budget adult video games, so it’s just a matter of finding the right story.
And if the team tries again in a few months, I would be happy to cover their journey.
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